Is it unrealistic to campaign for universal health care? Is it impractical to call a halt to fracking? Is it possible to advocate for free college and still win an election? Should candidates be willing to compromise on women’s health rights? Is a $15 wage too much to ask for? Are clean air and water and energy simply out of reach?
The two major viewpoints on these questions are often viewed as pragmatism and the idealism. The pragmatists say: Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the possible; ask for too much and you’ll get nothing; move toward the center or lose the war. The idealists insist: Incrementalism isn’t working; middling goals won’t solve our urgent problems; we’ve got to be bold. But is the conflict really between pragmatism and idealism?
What strategy is pragmatic?
Pragmatists scorn high-flying untested theories bandied about by dreamy philosophers. They pride themselves on being realistic. They’re the sensible ones who have come down out of the ivory towers to get their hands dirty in the nitty-gritty that actually works. So here’s the rub: If a strategy isn’t working, is it really pragmatic?
According to Narea and Shephard, the Democratic Party “is now at its weakest point at the state level since 1920” (2016). Last November it lost three governors’ houses and about 30 legislative seats, retaining the majority in only 31 of 98 legislative bodies, and occupying only 15 state governorships (Narea & Shephard). By one calculation, the eight years from 2008 to 2016 saw a loss of about 870 elected positions at state and federal levels (Bump, 2016).
How does it make sense to continue a strategy that has yielded these results? Even worse, how does it make sense to cling to a losing strategy and also scold and insult voters you desperately need to boost your numbers? And this is by the party that promoted the idea of pragmatism in the months leading up to the 2016 election.
Either the goals of the party-supported presidential campaign were timid due to something other than pragmatism, or the ongoing hostility toward the progressive wing of the party is driven by something other than the goal of strengthening the party. One “something” that fits both cases would be the goal to maintain the current power structure. That would require ousting or silencing the left wing of the party that supported Bernie Sanders, even if it resulted in election losses.
Such a stance cannot be defended as party loyalty — not if the party wants to call itself the New Deal or Great Society party, nor if it wants to continue to flaunt its ties to labor unions. Stubbornly clinging to a losing agenda can only be explained by loyalty to the party’s current leadership, whose roots go back to Neoliberalism (Robin, 2016), the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) — which Bill Clinton headed for years (Rosenberg, 2016) and Hillary participated in during her entire senate career (Corcoran, 2015), and the “Third Way” (Corcoran).
The progressive, left-facing wing of the party has not gone astray; the Democratic Party power structure has. That may explain why Bernie Sanders maintains his popularity among rank-and-file Democrats (Easley, 2017) even as the mainstream media and full-time trolls attack him.
Could it be that the “pragmatic” proposals of Democratic Party’s leadership are diluted, not to be more practical, but to better satisfy corporate financiers? Could it be that party leadership opposes progressive calls — for an indexed living wage; single-payer, universal healthcare; free college; and a halt to fracking with its methane and water pollution — not because they are too pure but because corporations oppose those initiatives? Stop claiming to be pragmatic while refusing to be practical enough to reach out to the biggest segment of voters.
The United States is now the richest country in the world — and the most unequal (Sherman, 2015). Voters are tired of excuses. Tired of fake candidates. Tired of fresh faces with stale promises. Tired of focus-group-approved talking points. Tired of politicians relying on the big money of the few while promising to represent the struggling masses.
It is time for Democrats to take back their party. Fight for civil rights — not just in words, but on the streets with Black Lives Matter. Fight for women’s rights — both the uncompromising authority of women over their own bodies and equality in hiring, wages, and treatment. Fight for indigenous Americans loudly and boldly at every Standing Rock and in Congress. Fight for strong unions. Fight for policies that benefit all Americans, not just the affluent and influential. It’s not only the right thing to do. It is the pragmatic thing to do.🔷
Bump, P. 2016, November 10. The decimation of the Democratic Party, visualized. The Washington Post: The Fix.
Corcoran, M. 2015, December 2. Hillary Clinton’s ghosts: A legacy of pushing the Democratic Party to the right. Truthout.
Easley, J. 2017, April 18. Poll: Bernie Sanders country’s most popular active politician. The Hill.
Narea, N. & Shephard, A. 2016, November 22. Forget Washington — the party is weaker at the state level than it’s been in nearly a century. New Republic.
Robin, C. 2016, April 27. When Neoliberalism was young: A lookback on Clintonism before Clinton. Corey Robin.
Rosenberg, P. 2016, April 30. Clintonism screwed the Democrats: How Bill, Hillary and the Democratic Leadership Council gutted progressivism. Salon.
Sherman, E. (2015, September 30). America is the richest, and most unequal, country. Fortune. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2015/09/30/america-wealth-inequality/